Books That Matter: The Analects of Confucius

Rated 5 out of 5 by from Classic Great Courses hidden gold. I am now only five lectures into this 24 lecture course, but have already experienced the hidden wonder that I've seen in other Great Courses courses. That is: if you are paying attention, and thinking synthetically about the content that is being taught, something much greater and more significant emerges than anything in the content of the material or than anything you thought you were signing up for when you bought the course. In this case, the nominal content is The Analects of Confucius, but available to the thoughtful watcher is the hidden and enormously meaningful value of cultural difference. "It changes everything." Items: (1) You can never be sure of anything, gleaned from Prof. LaFleur's teaching about the variability of the text. (2) Our Western way of thinking, which we never even think of as arbitrary, is in fact only one way and is irrelevant to the point of meaninglessness in other cultural contexts. What are the implications of this for our assured ways of going about life? (3) The foregoing uncertainty dissolves the assumed bulletproof reputations and unquestioned wisdom of major thinkers, major books, or indeed any monolithic content in human society, leaving the making sense of life entirely up to the individual. These are profoundly meaningful recognitions, which I have received from other Great Courses as well. (The course on Myth? The various myths taught shrunk in the face of realizing that we today are living under our own myths identically to those "ancient" myths that we now cast off as primitive.) It's like buying a glass ornament only to find it is in fact diamond. I may add to this review upon finishing the course, but at the moment can't imagine anything more important than the observations from it to this point. But I must comment very favorably on Prof. LaFleur's lecture style.
Date published: 2021-02-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Presentation Thoroughly enjoyed the course. And the professor taught it with passion.
Date published: 2021-02-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful Course! Wish I lived near his college so as to vagabond his courses.
Date published: 2020-12-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Awesome way to dive into the Analects This was a great lecture to learn more about Confucius and his philosophy. I gained great insight in to east Asian culture by the careful and deep explanation of the text, their meaning and historical context of the time. It could have been compounded a bit, but overall it was a joy to go through the entire series.
Date published: 2020-08-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Now It Finally Makes Sense! (Audio Version) I've read the Analects a couple times over the years, but they always struck me as a jumbled mass of unorganized, almost randomly arranged, thoughts. This course provides much needed insight into the structure of the Analects, and also valuable exposition into the cultural, linguistic, and historical background that makes it what it is. I highly recommend this course.
Date published: 2020-07-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great instructors/very good at expanding Confucius I am glad that I brought this video. Instructor very good at explaining Confucius philosophy.
Date published: 2019-11-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A wonderful invitation to thinking! This course went far beyond conveying information about the Analects. Professor La Fleur engages the listener in considering the ideas in the Analects and relating them not only to ourselves, but to our times. His emphasis on the social aspect is well thought out and convincing. Also, he is really helpful in explaining some of the almost incomprehensible sections of the work. Many of the courses in The Great Courses are wonderfully informational (I LOVE this company) but LaFleur goes far beyond that. His presentation avoids pedantry, but his information is well presented and precise. I chose this course because i knew nothing about the subject, and it has opened up a world of ideas, and also has opened up my mind. Take this course!
Date published: 2019-06-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Because of China's economic, military, and political growth, I took this course to prepare for the future. Previous courses regarding history and culture were equally pivotal to my understanding and each course indicated Confuciusism as instrumental to the culture. The lessons covered both the Analects and viewpoints in opposition. I wish there was an introductory course on reading or understanding the Chinese language. The question left in my mind is whether the Analects was the cause or effect of the observed Chinese culture.
Date published: 2018-12-31
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Books That Matter: The Analects of Confucius
Course Trailer
The Hidden Teaching Dynamic of the Analects
1: The Hidden Teaching Dynamic of the Analects

Before diving into the mysteries of the Analects, it's essential to get a broader view of Confucius and his style of teaching. Here, examine how the text's performative nature holds its diverse teachings together, and explore Confucius's mission to return China to a more harmonious era in its history....

30 min
The Analects: A Bird's-Eye View
2: The Analects: A Bird's-Eye View

The Analects, according to Professor LaFleur, shouldn't just be read. It should be lived. Learn how to enter the book's world by considering Confucius's imaginative ideas about living in society. Also, practice your ability to navigate through the book's tangle of questions and answers, assertions and observations, and challenges and retorts....

28 min
The Man We Call Confucius
3: The Man We Call Confucius

Who was Confucius? How did he manage to become one of the most important figures in world history? Get the full backstory on what historians know about the man called Confucius, including the opinions of thinkers like Mencius and Xunzi, and several illuminating passages from Chapter 10 of the Analects....

32 min
How the Analects Is Organized
4: How the Analects Is Organized

The structure of the Analects offers a helpful way in which to approach and understand the text's deeper meanings. Break down Confucius's book into its "chapters" (juan), the scattered nature of its tiny nuggets of knowledge ("analects"), and the generations of historical commentary winding among these approximately 500 individual sayings....

30 min
The Provenance of the Analects
5: The Provenance of the Analects

Archaeological discoveries were key to transforming scholarly understanding of early Chinese texts. In this lecture with the feel of a detective story, unearth the oldest version of the Analects (bamboo fragments found in a tomb in north-central China) and discover why there's no one single version of this world classic....

30 min
The Analects in Miniature
6: The Analects in Miniature

For those readers who've never encountered the Analects before, there's no better way to approach it than through its first five statements-which contain an entire world of philosophical knowledge. Join Professor LaFleur as he unpacks core themes in these iconic passages, including individual conduct and effective statesmanship....

29 min
Learning to Read the Analects
7: Learning to Read the Analects

While there are no absolute rules for reading the Analects, there are ways to enhance your understanding of its complexities. Tips you'll learn in this helpful lecture include: focus on the early chapters (more likely to be composed soon after Confucius's death) and-paradoxically-acknowledge what the book cannot teach you....

30 min
Confucius's Students: Zai Wo and Yan Hui
8: Confucius's Students: Zai Wo and Yan Hui

Meet two of the most important and memorable students featured in the Analects. The first is Zai Wo, a devoted (but prickly) student who functions as a sort of trickster character. The second is Yan Hui, Confucius's favorite student and the model for what the thinker valued in his students....

29 min
Confucius's Students: Zilu and Zigong
9: Confucius's Students: Zilu and Zigong

In this lecture, meet two more students who accompanied Confucius on his journey of enlightenment: the difficult (and often criticized) Zilu and the mistake-prone (but fiercely loyal) Zigong. Both students, as you'll learn, are surprisingly nuanced followers, and they both experience a powerful intellectual evolution as the Analects progresses....

31 min
Confucius on the Purpose of Learning
10: Confucius on the Purpose of Learning

What was the point of gaining knowledge, according to Confucius? Professor LaFleur reveals the answer in this pointed discussion on putting the teachings in the Analects into practice. In a close reading of several passages, you'll get to the heart of how Confucius's teachings relate to the wider world....

31 min
Filial Devotion in the Analects
11: Filial Devotion in the Analects

Begin investigating several of the core concepts in the Analects that would go on to define Confucian thought in Chinese history. The first of these concepts: "filial devotion" (xiao), which is a practical and symbolic way of creating an orderly society at home and in the world at large....

32 min
Confucius on the Value of Remonstrance
12: Confucius on the Value of Remonstrance

The idea of remonstrance (the duty of a child to "correct" the actions of an adult) lies at the heart of hierarchical Chinese society and politics. How is the concept critiqued in the Analects? How does it protect families and states from ruin? What are some of its potential dangers?...

29 min
The Exemplary Person in the Analects
13: The Exemplary Person in the Analects

How does the Analects define an exemplary person? Find out by examining a series of key concepts that work together to shape a "whole person" who can properly function as a social and political being. Among these are loyalty (zhong), sincerity (cheng), trust (xin), and virtue (de)....

30 min
Confucius's Ideal: Consummate Conduct
14: Confucius's Ideal: Consummate Conduct

Explore the highest (and most difficult) of Confucian skills: consummate conduct (ren). Along the way, you'll learn how this concept has dominated 25 centuries of Chinese history, how it reveals the true depths of Confucius's teachings, and why it's not just a lifestyle-but a matter of life and death....

29 min
Confucius on Cultivating the Social Self
15: Confucius on Cultivating the Social Self

Continue unpacking the concept of consummate conduct by breaking it down into smaller social and moral skills that should always be properly cultivated. As Professor LaFleur reveals, consummate conduct is more than an individual quality; it's profoundly social to its core, tying together family, community, and even the state itself....

29 min
Ritual Conduct in the Analects
16: Ritual Conduct in the Analects

Ritual lies at the heart of the Analects, and is perhaps one of Confucius's biggest action items. Here, delve into the idea of ritual propriety (li), which requires an individual to acknowledge both cosmological concepts and minute details. Ritual, as you'll discover, is so much more than just stuffy rule-following....

30 min
Confucius on Embodied Ritual and Music
17: Confucius on Embodied Ritual and Music

In this second lecture on Confucian ideas of ritual, learn why, in the Analects, ritual is tightly interlinked with the body-so that ritual becomes not just prescriptions but performative actions. Also, learn how Confucius links ritual with music, so that both reflect the height of human emotion and community....

30 min
The Analects on Effective Rule
18: The Analects on Effective Rule

In Confucian learning, the greatest challenge is the act of governing. How are we supposed to rule ourselves, our families, and our communities-all under the authority of heaven? Using pointed examples from the Analects, examine Confucian ideas about proper leadership, the importance of advisors, and the need for constant self-correction....

28 min
Mencius: The Next Confucian Sage
19: Mencius: The Next Confucian Sage

Who took up the mantle after the death of Confucius? Professor LaFleur introduces you to Mencius, whose collected writings are both a spirited defense and significant expansion of the Analects. Filled with long narratives that read like dramatic performances, his Mencius hammered home the idea that people are inherently good....

30 min
Confucius's Daoist and Legalist Critics
20: Confucius's Daoist and Legalist Critics

The ideas espoused in the Analects had their share of critics. Here, take a look at some of the most prominent of these, including Xunzi, who felt that humans were born flawed; Daoist critics like Zhuangzi; and the Legalist philosopher Han Fei, who considered Confucius to be a fuzzy-minded dilettante....

28 min
State Confucianism and Buddhism
21: State Confucianism and Buddhism

In the first half of this lecture, consider how Confucianism moved into the seat of power in China during the four centuries of the Han dynasty and evolved in two very different directions. Then, explore how this new form of "State Confucianism" blended with other Eastern belief systems-especially Buddhism....

30 min
Sima Guang and the Confucian Revival
22: Sima Guang and the Confucian Revival

View the life and works of the Chinese historian Sima Guang as a window into neo-Confucianism: the revived form of Confucianism that emerged in the 11th century. You'll learn how this historian took the lessons of the Analects and adapted them to fit new social, economic, and political complexities....

31 min
Neo-Confucianism and the Political Order
23: Neo-Confucianism and the Political Order

Go deeper inside the ways neo-Confucianism reshaped the foundations of Chinese education and government. Topics include Ouyang Xiu's essay, "On Fundamentals", which celebrated Confucian principles; Zhu Xi's reorganization of Confucian education into the "Four Books" model; and the importance (and misery) of civil service examinations....

31 min
Confucius's Comeback in a Global World
24: Confucius's Comeback in a Global World

Conclude the course with a look at Confucian thought in the modern age. How did the West influence internal Chinese affairs (already on the point of collapse before Westerners arrived)? Why were the Analects pilloried during Mao's "Cultural Revolution"? How did Confucius once again become the voice of China?...

32 min
Robert Andre LaFleur

The myth that began all Chinese myths tells the story, not of how the world began, but of a culture hero who transformed daily human life.


University of Chicago


Beloit College

About Robert Andre LaFleur

Professor Robert Andre LaFleur is Professor of History and Anthropology at Beloit College in Wisconsin, where he has taught since 1998. He received his doctorate from The University of Chicago's John U. Nef Committee on Social Thought, where he combined work in anthropology, history, and Chinese literature. Professor LaFleur received the Charles S. Bassett Teaching Award from Colby College, as well as the James R. Underkofler Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching Award from Beloit College. He is the recipient of a Millicent C. McIntosh Fellowship from the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation and has been a frequent visiting scholar with the University of Wisconsin's Institute for Research in the Humanities and the East-West Center in Honolulu. In 2013, Professor LaFleur gave a series of lectures and seminars at Beijing University. Professor LaFleur is the lead author and editor of two textbooks: China: A Global Studies Handbook and Asia in Focus: China. He has published book chapters, articles, and research papers about topics ranging from Chinese historiography, literature, ethnicity, and mythology to the history and anthropology of Oceania. Professor LaFleur's current work combines historical research using Chinese, Japanese, and Korean sources with anthropological fieldwork on each of China's five sacred mountains.

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